April 5, 2018

Second Homily for Holy Thursday (St. Cyril of Alexandria)

By St. Cyril of Alexandria

(Commentary on Luke, Sermon 142)

Luke 22:17-22. And He took a cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this, and divide it with one another, for I say to you, that I will not drink henceforth of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled." And He took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave to them, saying, "This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me." In like manner also the cup, after He had supped, saying, "This cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you. But, behold! the hand of him that betrays Me is with Me at the table. And the Son of man indeed goes, according to that which was determined, but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"

To be made partakers of Christ, both intellectually and by our senses, fills us with every blessing. For He dwells in us, first, by the Holy Spirit, and we are His abode, according to that which was said of old by one of the holy prophets. "For I will dwell in them," He says, "and lead them, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people."

But He is also within us in another way by means of our partaking in the oblation of bloodless offerings, which we celebrate in the churches, having received from Him the saving pattern of the rite, as the blessed Evangelist plainly shows us in the passage which has just been read. For He tells us that "He took a cup, and gave thanks, and said, 'Take this, and divide it with one another.'" Now by His giving thanks, by which is meant His speaking to God the Father in the manner of prayer, He signified to us that He, so to speak, shares and takes part in His good pleasure in granting us the life-giving blessing which was then bestowed upon us: for every grace, and every perfect gift comes to us from the Father by the Son in the Holy Spirit. And this act then was a pattern for our use of the prayer which ought to be offered, whenever the grace of the mystical and life-giving oblation is about to be spread before Him by us, and so accordingly we are wont to do. For first offering up our thanksgivings, and joining in our praises to God the Father both the Son and the Holy Spirit, we so draw near to the holy tables, believing that we receive life and blessing both spiritually and corporeally: for we receive in us the Word of the Father, Who for our sakes became man, and Who is Life, and the Giver of life.

Let us then enquire, to the best of our ability, what is the view held among us of this mystery, for it is our duty to be "ready to give an answer concerning the hope that is in us," as the wise Peter says. "The God of all therefore created all things for immortality, and the beginnings of the world were life; but by the envy of the devil death entered the world." For it was that rebel serpent who led the first man to the transgression of the commandment, and to disobedience, by means of which he fell under the divine curse, and into the net of death, for it was said to him, "Earth you are, and to the earth you shall return." Was it then right that one who was created for life and immortality should be made mortal, and condemned to death without power of escape? Must the envy of the devil be more unassailable and enduring than the will of God? Not so, for it has been brought to nought; and the clemency of the Creator has transcended the evil effects of his malignity. He has given aid to those upon earth. And what then was the manner in which He aided them? One truly great, and admirable, and worthy of God; yes, worthy in the very highest degree of the supreme Mind. For God the Father is by His own nature Life; and as alone being so, He caused the Son to shine forth Who also Himself is Life: for it could not be otherwise with Him Who is the Word That proceeded substantially from the Life. Therefore He must, I say must, also Himself be Life, as being One Who sprang forth from Life, from Him Who begat Him.

God the Father therefore gives life to all things by the Son in the Holy Spirit, and every thing that exists and breathes in heaven and on earth, its existence and life is from God the Father by the Son in the Holy Spirit. Neither therefore the nature of angels, nor anything else whatsoever that was made, nor aught that from non-existence was brought into being, possesses life as the fruit of its own nature, but, on the contrary, life proceeds, as I said, from the Substance which transcends all, and to it only it belongs, and is possible that it can give life, because it is by nature life.

In what manner therefore can man upon earth, clothed as he is with mortality, return to incorruption? I answer, that this dying flesh must be made partaker of the life-giving power which comes from God. But the life-giving power of God the Father is the Only-begotten Word, and Him He sent to us as a Savior and Deliverer. And how He sent Him, the blessed John the Evangelist clearly tells us, saying, "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt in us." But He became flesh, not by having undergone any change or alteration into what He had not been, nor again by having ceased to be the Word; - for He knows not what it is to suffer the shadow of a change; - but rather by having been born in the flesh of a woman, and taken to Himself that body which He received from her, in order that, having implanted Himself in us by an inseparable union, He might raise us above the power both of death and corruption. And Paul is our witness, where he says of Him and of us, "For inasmuch as the children are partakers of blood and flesh, so He in like manner was partaker of the same, that by death He might bring him to nought who has dominion over death, that is, the devil; and deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. For He does not take hold of angels, "but He took hold of the seed of Abraham: for which reason it was right for Him in all things to be made like to His brethren," that is, to us. For He was made in our likeness, and clothed Himself in our flesh, that by raising it from the dead He might prepare a way henceforth, by which the flesh which had been humbled to death might return anew to incorruption. For we are united to Him just as also we were united to Adam, when he brought upon himself the penalty of death. And Paul testifies thereunto, thus writing on one occasion, "For because by man is death, by man is also the resurrection of the dead," and again upon another, "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all live." The Word therefore, by having united to Himself that flesh which was subject to death, as being God and Life drove away from it corruption, and made it also to be the source of life: for such must the body of (Him Who is) the Life be.

And do not disbelieve what I have said, but rather accept the word in faith, having gathered proofs thereof from a few examples. When you cast a piece of bread into wine or oil, or any other liquid, you find that it becomes charged with the quality of that particular thing. When iron is brought into contact with fire, it becomes full of its activity; and while it is by nature iron, it exerts the power of fire. And so the life-giving Word of God, having united Himself to His own flesh in a way known to Himself, endowed it with the power of giving life. And of this He certifies us Himself, saying, "Verily, I say to you, he that believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life." And again, "I am the living bread, that came down from heaven; if a man eat of this bread, he shall live forever. And the bread that I shall give is My flesh for the life of the world. Verily, I say to you, that if you eat not the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He that eats My flesh, and drinks My blood, abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father; so He that eats Me shall also live because of Me." When therefore we eat the holy flesh of Christ, the Savior of us all, and drink His precious blood, we have life in us, being made as it were, one with Him, and abiding in Him, and possessing Him also in us.

And let none of those whose wont it is to disbelieve say, 'Since therefore the Word of God, being by nature life, dwells in us also, is the body of each one of us too endowed with the power of giving life?' Rather let him know that it is a perfectly different thing for the Son to be in us by a relative participation, and for Himself to become flesh, that is, to make that body His own which was taken from the blessed Virgin. For He is not said to become incarnate and be made flesh by being in us, but rather this happened once for all when He became man without ceasing to be God. The body therefore of the Word was that assumed by Him from the holy Virgin, and made one with Him; but how, or in what manner this was done, we cannot tell, for it is incapable of explanation, and altogether beyond the powers of the mind, and to Himself alone is the manner of the union known.

It was titling therefore for Him to be in us both divinely by the Holy Spirit, and also, so to speak, to be mingled with our bodies by His holy flesh and precious blood: which things also we possess as a life-giving eucharist, in the form of bread and wine. For lest we should be terrified by seeing (actual) flesh and blood placed upon the holy tables of our churches, God, humbling Himself to our infirmities, infuses into the things set before us the power of life, and transforms them into the efficacy of His flesh, that we may have them for a life-giving participation, and that the body of (Him Who is the) Life may be found in us as a life-producing seed. And do not doubt that this is true, since Himself plainly says, "This is My body;" "This is My blood," but rather receive in faith the Savior's word; for He, being the Truth, cannot lie. And so will you honor Him; for as the very wise John says, "He that receives His witness has set his seal that God is true. For He Whom God sent speaks the words of God." For the words of God are of course true, and in no manner whatsoever can they be false, for even though we understand not in what way God works such as these, yet He Himself knows the way of His works. For when Nicodemus could not understand His words concerning holy baptism, and foolishly said, "How can those things be?" he heard Christ in answer say, "Verily I say to you, that we speak that which we know, and testify that which we see, and you receive not our testimony. If I have spoken to you the earthly things, and you believe not, how will you believe if I tell you the heavenly things?" For how indeed can a man learn those things which transcend the powers of our mind and reason? Let therefore this our divine mystery be honored by faith.

But Judas the traitor, who was eating with Him, was reproved in those words which Christ spoke, "But behold the hand of him who betrays Me is with Me at the table." For he imagined perchance in his great senselessness, or rather as being filled with the haughtiness of the devil, that he could deceive Christ, though He be God. But, as I said, he was convicted of being altogether wicked, and hateful to God, and traitorous, and yet admission was deigned him to the table, and he was counted worthy of the divine gentleness even to the end, thereby is his punishment made the more severe. For Christ has somewhere said of him by the Psalmist's voice, "That if an enemy had reproached Me, I had borne it. And if he that hated Me had spoken against Me proud things, I had hid myself from him. But it was you, My like in soul, My neighbor and My acquaintance, who in My company had sweetened for Me meats, and we went to the house of the Lord in concord." Woe therefore to him, according to the Savior's word! For He indeed, according to the good will of God the Father, gave Himself in our stead, that He might deliver us from all evil, but the man who betrayed into the hands of murderers the Savior and Deliverer of all, will have for his inheritance the condemnation which is the devil's fitting punishment. For his guilt was not against one such as we are, but against the Lord of all, by Whom and with Whom to God the Father be praise and dominion, with the Holy Spirit, forever and ever, Amen.